How you can achieve peak performance

Deliberate practice for tutors
Malcolm Gladwell popularised the 10,000 rule for excellence. He argued that anyone who had reached a world-class level of excellence had spent 10,000 hours practicing. That equates to about three hours per day, for 10 years straight – with no days off.

In many cases people reach a level of excellence in their late teens and early 20s after obsessively practicing for more than three hours per day. Eric Clapton was a loner who spent hours in his room dissecting blues records. Lydia Ko started golf at age five, and was known for her focus and dedication. She missed hardly any practice sessions, and currently practices for 5 hours per day.

Many people want to reach a level of excellence, but it turns out that Gladwell didn’t quite tell the whole story when he wrote about the 10,000 hour rule. Anders Ericsson recently spoke on National Radio about his new book Peak: Secrets from the New Science of Expertise 

Gladwell drew the 10,000 hour conclusion from the work Ericsson and colleagues published in 1993. What Gladwell missed was that excellence is not just about doing something for a long time. Rather it’s about deliberate practice.

What is deliberate practice?

Ericsson defines deliberate practice as ‘a regimen of effortful activities designed to improve performance’. This basically means doing stuff on purpose that will make you better.

What’s the difference between deliberate practice and practice? Deliberate practice involves:

  • applying effort and focus to those skills that are required to be an expert
  • practicing regularly
  • ideally receiving feedback from an expert, or otherwise carefully analysing your own performance as you practice
  • continually increasing the level of skill, with the intention of improving

In contrast practice is doing anything other than deliberate practice. For example, swinging a golf club 100 times per day is practice. But it lacks the key features of deliberate practice. Answering maths questions is practice, but unless it fits into a wider deliberate practice plan, then it’s just practice.

A core feature of deliberate practice is breaking down the skills experts have, and focussing on those. That’s why it helps to work with a tutor, coach, or other kind of expert. They know what skills are required to become an expert. They can also provide immediate feedback so learners can make sure they are practicing the right skills in the right way.

Deliberate practice for everyone (and anything)

Anders Ericsson points out that to be generally better than most of the people around you, you might not have to engage in too much deliberate practice. If you want to be better than most of the people in the world, and if the skill you are pursuing has any level of popularity, then you will find you need to do much more deliberate practice.

For students in school this means that small amounts of deliberate practice will be enough to elevate them  within their class. More importantly deliberate practice means you have a very strong understanding of whatever you are learning. It’s methodical, often slow, and requires extensive focus. When you practice something deliberately you really get a grasp of the basics, and so even if you don’t plan to become the best in the world what you are learning, you will learn the basics well.

As a final bonus, by applying deliberate practice to schoolwork students learn how to practice anything deliberately. Therefore, when they find the things that they want to devote more time and energy to, they will have the tools to reach excellence.

Listen to Anders Ericsson speaking on National Radio here:

Part 2: How to apply deliberate practice coming soon 

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